Any list of the English First Class counties must begin with Derbyshire, other for those pedants who will, if I don’t mention them, chide me for not making reference to Cambridgeshire. Between 1857 and 1871 a Cambridgeshire club played in 39 matches now reckoned to be First Class. This was therefore a generation prior to the official County Championship beginning in 1890.
Derbyshire have been around since 1870, and the first substantial history of the club, by WJ Piper, appeared in 1897. After that it would be another 73 years before another appeared, a centenary history from John Shawcroft. That one appeared only as a limited edition although it is not too difficult to find. In between there had been two small books, one by Frederick Ashley-Cooper that appeared in 1924, and in 1936 another small publication, covering the years from 1919 until its publication, was produced by the splendidly named Llewellyn Eardley-Simpson.
In 1989 publisher Christopher Helm published a series of county histories and Derbyshire’s appeared in 1989, Shawcroft reprising his earlier book. Finally, to date, in 2007 veteran journalist Edward Giles wrote The Derbyshire Chronicles, a book which does not enjoy a high profile, although it should. It is an excellent read.
There have not been too many biographical books about Derbyshire players, but there have been some very good ones. The most recent is Bill Bestwick: Rough Diamond by Mick Pope, the latest addition to the ACS Lives in Cricket series, and a fine book it is too. A pace bowler who plied his trade between 1898 and 1925 (with a ten year break between 1910 and 1919) Bestwick led an interesting life. He is the fourth Derbyshire man to appear in that particular series.
The first Derbyshire man in the ACS series, back in 2008, was on the subject of another in the county’s long line of fine opening bowlers, Bill Copson, written by Kit Bartlett. Copson was at his best in the 1930s and played three times for England on either side of World War Two. Another man featured in the series is Donald Carr. An amateur who led England in one of his two Tests Carr was a decent batsman and more than useful orthodox left arm spinner who led the county for eight summers in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In later life Carr accomplished much in administrative roles. His book is another from the pen of John Shawcroft.
Finally from the ACS, so far, is Steve Dolman’s biography of off spinner Edwin Smith, a stalwart of the side through the 1950s and 1960s and whose personal input into the book makes it one of the very best in that thoroughly worthwhile series.
There are also books on the subject of two more of the long line of quality seamers who have come from Derbyshire. Harold Rhodes was a fine bowler whose career was blighted by doubts about the legality of his action and his England career restricted to just two Tests. Eventually the powers that be decided that Rhodes bowling was fair, but the controversy had taken its toll. His autobiography, The Harold Rhodes Affair, is an interesting book.
Another two Test man, who famously made his appearances a dozen years apart, was Les Jackson, as feared a seamer as there was in the county game for the fifteen years after World War Two. Long time journalist Mike Carey wrote Les Jackson – A Derbyshire Legend.
The only other two Derbyshire players to have written autobiographies are of much more recent vintage, and both had long Test careers. Wicketkeeper Bob Taylor’s story appeared as Standing Up, Standing Back in appeared in 1985 and Devon Malcolm’s You Guys Are History in 1998.
Dominic Cork was, in the late 1990s, a hugely effective bowler for Derbyshire and England and whilst he has not, up until now, written an autobiography his diary of the 1995 summer, Uncorked, is very much of that ilk, so deserves a mention here.
Before leaving this category altogether I will mention a couple more publications which are essentially biographical. The first is Scraps From A Cricketer’s Memories, a 75 page booklet published by the club in 1980 – the cricketer concerned is Levi Wright, an amateur batsman and early captain of the club whose First Class career extended from 1883 until 1907. Even slimmer, at 48 pages, is Peter Hargreaves’ introduction to pace bowler Ole Mortensen, Derbyshire’s Dane, published when its subject first joined the county in 1983.
Which brings me on to ‘any other business’ and, firstly, my favourite book on Derbyshire cricket, and another one from John Shawcroft. Local Heroes is the story of Derbyshire’s (so far) only County Championship title in 1936. The book tells the story of the season and of the players who took them to the title and is a fascinating account of a memorable summer.
Not far behind Local Heroes is Steve Dolman’s In Their Own Words, a selection of interviews with the great and the good of Derbyshire cricket. That one is a great deal more than a selection of pen portraits, but there are a few of those as well. The bulkiest is Derek Carlaw’s contribution to Tempus Publishing’s 100 Greats series. A variation on the theme is Derbyshire Bowlers, a 56 page booklet from John Shawcroft, and a rather strange looking but entertaining home production by Idris Barrett, Derbyshire’s England Cricketers.
One last book that is deserving of mention, is The Rise and Fall of Percy Perrin. The book concerns a match between Essex and Derbyshire in 1904 in which Perrin, the man with more First Class runs than any other man never to have won a Test cap, scored 343 for Essex, yet his county still ended up losing by nine wickets. As well as a detailed description of a remarkable match the book also contains biographical details of both the players that made up both teams. The book’s author was, perhaps inevitably, John Shawcroft.
And finally, what two books should be published on Derbyshire cricketing subjects? The first one is easy enough, a biography of Alan Ward. Now, I believe, living in Queensland Ward was a pace bowler, genuinely quick and hostile. In a troubled career there were highs and lows, amongst them five England caps, and a seemingly troubled soul who never did fulfil his enormous potential. The second choice I pondered for some time, but eventually my choice is a biography of Stan Worthington. Another England player Worthington was capped nine times in the 1930s and scored a Test century against India in 1936. He was primarily a batsman, but also a decent fast medium bowler. Worthington was also, and this is what clinches his case for me, an autocratic coach at Lancashire in the 1960s.
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